Howey Ou, a climate activist from China, says that just as the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the whole planet, so too does the climate crisis. Warning against inaction, she calls for a collective effort to achieve climate justice.
This blog is the fourth in our intergenerational series "It will take all of us: never too young to lead on the climate crisis" and features an introduction by Juan Manuel Santos:
"Howey highlights beautifully the connection between caring for nature and protecting our climate. Our unsustainable use of natural resources is a threat to current and future generations and young people like Howey are right to be concerned about environmental damage and the impact on our global health, productivity, security and wellbeing. Protecting biodiversity is vital to promoting climate change mitigation and adaptation – people like Howey are crucial to raising awareness about this."
The COVID-19 pandemic that we have all been affected by around the world is not disconnected from the climate crisis. The pandemic is a painful strike to the poorest and the most vulnerable. It has made visible other ongoing humanitarian crises. We have often ignored changes in nature until now. We have ignored the crises of the past, the present and those that will come in the future. This pandemic has woken us up to the conflicts, injustices and problems of the whole planet. Just as the COVID-19 pandemic has consequence for the whole planet, so does the climate crisis. It is has reminded us of our connection to each other and to nature.
I think my involvement in taking climate action was my destiny – it was something that began with an unexpected personal revelation. On a winter vacation three years ago I was at home doing my homework and my aunt visited and brought brochures with her from the Chinese Vegan Association, which had organised a speaking tour in China. At that time, veganism was very rare. In my mind only Buddhists were vegan or vegetarian, none of my own classmates or relatives were vegetarian so I was very curious about it. The brochure started by explaining global warming and land misuse, the misery of animals, and then later spoke about the health advantages of a vegan diet, etc. It was very detailed and fascinating, I spent close to three hours reading it carefully, I memorised several facts, and decided to stop eating meat for a few days as a personal experiment. I was so thrilled with the idea I stood on my desk excitedly, pointing at the ceiling to swear my commitment to this idea.
The same evening as my experiment began some relatives came to our home for supper, my family decided to eat outside and serve lamb hotpots (I have eaten several such meals before and loved them). But on this occasion I only ate rice and some lettuce with spring onion. You can imagine the scene! A whole table of adults advised me to eat meat and I just shook head embarrassedly. The remaining three days I carried out my trial passed with little effort. I would just keep reciting to the promise I had made to myself. However, what should I do next? It was a challenge for me and I was not sure whether to remain vegan or not. Though I initially surrendered to temptation and ate meat again the unique struggle left trace on my heart.
For a whole year, I continued to stress my position with different relatives - there was lots of compromising, debating, fighting and crying. It was a painful experience for me. In 2018, I then had a second experience, a dream, that enlightened me and furthered my understanding of my relationship with the natural world.
In my dream, my family and I were playing together and catching fish in a stream with plastic baskets. In the dream we were then taken to a restaurant and were instructed to kill one of the live fish. In the dream I vividly remember an image of myself holding a knife, being told I must kill the fish or I would not eat that day. I tried to grab the fish with my left hand, lifting up the knife with my right hand several times to slay it with shaking hands and heart. The fish escaped from my evil hand with all its strength! One of its panic-stricken eyes made contact with my own. I felt both its eagerness to live and its horror at its impending death! What I would decide to do, or not, would determine whether it lived or died. This dream felt so stressful, the vision of the fish in my hands ended with everything intensely focused on a small, black dot. Suddenly the fish exploded, something gushing out of it like flood. I awoke, with knitted brows and a beating heart. I felt the hardness of the bed, but what had happened in my dream still felt incredibly real. As I lay thinking about the dream it was then I decided I did not want to consciously ever again be the cause of another creature's death, either directly as in my dream or indirectly through the way I live my life.
These two experiences, one real and one as I dreamt in my sleep, changed my whole perspective on the way I live my life.
All people can be involved in taking action for the climate and for nature. Firstly, we need to be very clear what the climate catastrophe means to human civilization and to themselves, to their own loved ones. Besides, we need to inform ourselves about policies and understand what different actions will mean. Policies and action now will have consequences for all of us and also for future generations, as well as for millions of other species now and in the future. What’s more, people need to understand what they can do right now to make a change. Last but not least, to eliminate the injustice in our world change has to begin in our hearts, connect to the inner and spiritual self is fundamental. We need love and patience for all of humanity and nature more than ever. We need to regenerate our connections to all.
Inaction will keep hurting us all – especially the children and future generations. I ask world leaders to fight for climate justice as if the world is depending on it – because it is.
Howey Ou is a 17-year-old vegan, climate activist from Guilin in China. Howey was inspired by Greta Thunberg and after being stopped from striking by local authorities set up #PlantForSurvival to advocate for climate action and to encourage more Chinese people to be involved. Howey believes all people can be involved in climate action and her message to others is to “start small - for example talk to your friends, or make a presentation in class.”